"About a year ago or a little more, we began to see some structural issues with some minor cracking in one of the walls - a stairwell over there," said Bill Rasnick, ETSU associate vice president for physical plant. "When we saw that, we knew it was beyond our capability, and so we brought in a structural engineer."
Along with the interior cracks, the unstable subsoil also resulted in cracks in the exterior brick and foundation of Ball Hall, which is home to the university's art and design department, including Slocumb Galleries.
Since the safety of the students, employees and visitors who frequent Ball Hall was the chief concern, administrators asked the engineer to conduct a safety assessment, and he quickly determined that the cracking posed no immediate safety issues, Rasnick said, but subsoil changes were affecting the building's foundation.
"It has to do with drainage," Rasnick said. "We had a year here when we had a couple of hundred-year storms in a year's time, and the next year we had a drought greater than we had in 50 years.
"So, between the two, we don't know what caused what, but it's our belief that they contributed to that."
Administrators asked the engineer to design recommendations, and he concluded that a micropile geotechnical system would be the best way to resolve the shifting.
"What will happen there is they'll drill small holes that will slant back under the foundation, and they'll actually go into the bedrock," Rasnick said. "Into those holes, they'll inject a grout or a concrete-type substance.
"There will be a number of those put in, and they will in a sense form a column to support the foundation. That will take the subsoil problem out of the equation."
The engineer completed a design for the Ball Hall work about two months ago. The project is out for bid. Rasnick estimated costs at about $100,000.
Following the structural work, ETSU will patch the brick and interior walls.
"Those are cosmetic issues," Rasnick said. "It doesn't make much sense to fix those until you fix the foundation, because you still see some differential movement."
Neighboring Mathes and Burleson halls, which connect with Ball via breezeways, have not been affected, Rasnick said, but similar stability issues have been found at some other buildings on campus, including nearby Brown Hall and the B. Carroll Reece Museum.
ETSU officials initially planned to install micropile geotechnical improvements at the Reece Museum in December as part of overall renovations there, but additional evaluations indicated a lack of need.
For both Brown and the Reece Museum, engineers have recommended cosmetic and rainwater drainage improvements.
The Ball, Brown and Reece Museum structural enhancements were built into a block project projected to cost a total of $1.2 million, Rasnick said. The figures included the Reece's overall renovation.